Consuming Issues: Hey big spender, it's all down to your genes
Saturday 09 October 2010
If you love chocolate, like me, you may be able to blame something other than considerable greed if you no longer fit into your jeans: your genes. Research is shedding light on the reasons we sometimes like things, or engage in risky behaviour.
We already know that genes decide what we look like, and can predispose us to getting illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and even attention deficit disorder (though in most cases lifestyle appears to be a more important factor).
But until now relatively little research has been done into how genes affect our behaviour in the shops. A fascinating new academic study suggests that many decisions we have hitherto assumed were down to our free will alone are influenced by our genetic make-up.
Whether we like chocolate and how reckless we are may all have a significant heritable element, according to the authors Itamar Simonson, of Stanford University and Aner Sala, of Florida University, in the US. They reviewed existing scientific papers on genes and personality and also tested 360 twins. Of these, there were 110 pairs of monoxygotic (identical) twins and 60 pairs of dizygotic (non-identical) twins.
By using twins, who share the same family background, the researchers hoped to screen out the impact of 'nurture' while identifying the "nature" influencing genetically identical twins but missing from genetically dissimilar twins.
What they found was strong evidence that "prudence" – an individual's balance of risk and caution – is strongly heritable. When presented with a "vice or virtue" choice, having chocolate (pleasurable) or batteries (useful), identical twins were much more likely to share their twin's choice of utilitarian/non-utilitarian options. Similar but less strong similarities were noticed in another "vice or virtue" test, whether to buy groceries (boring but useful) or have a massage (enjoyable but less useful).
Strong genetic responses were also identified in tests on risk-taking behaviour and delayed gratification.
The study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, went further than these personality tests and ascertained both types of twins' liking for a wide range of consumer products. Genes seem to play a particularly important role in influencing an individual preference for mustard, dark chocolate, hybrid cars, opera and science fiction. Less strong genetic similarities were detected for milk chocolate and jazz.
Conversely, there seems to be no genetic influence on our liking for many other products and activities: abstract art, body-piercing, tattoos, heavy metal, roller-coasters, coriander, coffee, tomato ketchup, liquorice, iPhones, and even Facebook. We like those purely because we like them.
The authors speculated that in future businesses may be able to market certain products, such as chocolate, at specific members of the public whose genetic information is available, perhaps through voluntary genetic testing. Perhaps in the 22nd century, instead of the police identifying criminals before they do anything wrong – the far-fetched plot of the Tom Cruise film Minority Report – corporations may be able to identify customers before they buy anything.
A more prosaic way of looking at the research is to consider that if you're in debt, hanker for 70 per cent cocoa chocolate, or adore Bizet, you may merely be following a secret dance programmed for you at birth. The authors write of prudence: "Some people may be born with a tendency to be 'in the mainstream' whereas others tend to 'live on the edge'."
"My genes made me splurge on credit cards" – now that's an excuse the bank manager may not have heard before ...
Heroes and villains: Co-op wins readers' voteon animal welfare
Hero: The Co-op
This week the grocery chain won the People's Choice award at the RSPCA Good Business awards in London. Among its achievements, the Co-op sells only Freedom Food, free range or organic eggs, and its own-brand beef comes from cattle reared outdoors. Almost 15,000 voted in the award, sponsored by The Independent. Thank you.
Villian: Daily Express
The Express keeps running dodgy readers' offers. This week the Advertising Standards Authority banned its £20.70 "buy one get one free" offer for an "Alpine Army" watch. It turned out the watch normally costs £9.95 plus post and packing. The Express blamed a production error. Funny how often things seem to go wrong there.
Independent Partners; request a free guide on NISAs from Hargreaves Lansdown
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift
- 1 Jack the Ripper: Scientist who claims to have identified notorious killer has 'made serious DNA error'
- 2 Banksy arrest hoax: Internet duped by fake online report claiming artist's identity has been revealed
- 3 Former East 17 frontman Brian Harvey turns up at Downing Street and 'demands to speak to Prime Minister'
- 4 Kentucky gang rape: 15-year-old boy left in critical condition after sexual attack by group at party
- 5 Paralysed man Darek Fidyka walks again after treatment by British doctors on brink of 'cure'
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Jose Manuel Barroso warns David Cameron against making 'historic mistake' over immigration reforms
Worst Airports of 2014: Poll names Islamabad airport in Pakistan worst in the world
iJobs Money & Business
£23000 per annum + pension and 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ...
£27000 per annum + pension, 22 days holiday: Ashdown Group: An established ind...
£23000 - £26000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...
£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Corporate Actions Administrator / Operations Admini...
Day In a Page
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
A three-bedroom, 15th-century cottage with original features in the picturesque village of Sissinghurst
A six-bedroom terraced house with large south-facing roof terrace, cinema room and wine cellar
A new seven-bedroom home built in Queen Anne-style with swimming pool and parkland views in Mortimer
A listed, four-bedroom farmhouse in the rural hamlet of Rushall with detached barn, four acres of gardens and paddocks
A first-floor flat with two bedrooms, a spacious reception room and communal grounds in a leafy part of London
A three-bedroom flat with a spacious rootop terrace and balcony, accessed from a private gated courtyard
A Grade II-listed pile with six bedrooms, stables and 39 acres of grounds in Standlake
A two-bedroom flat with boutique hotel-style interiors, close to the foodie haunt of West End Lane
A two-bedroom flat in a beautiful old vicarage, with many original features, close to the city centre
A three-bedroom 16th-century home with an aga kitchen, private gardens and heated outdoor pool, in Hadleigh
A three-bedrom home in sought-after Queen's Gate Mews, with Italian marble-finished bathrooms
Surrounded by glorious countryside in the village of Udimore, sits this impressive four-kiln oast and barn conversion
A five-bedroom house in the picturesque village of Kettlewell, north Yorkshire
An 18th-century former coaching inn with original staircase, open fireplaces and beams throughout
A Grade II-listed Georgian town house with three bedrooms and a south-facing courtyard, near Arundel Castle
Feel on top of the world at this über chic penthouse on the 37th floor of one of Europe’s tallest blocks.
A Grade II-listed Victorian villa with six bedrooms and two further cottages, all with spectacular sea views
A grade II-listed, Georgian cottage with mature 50ft garden, perfect for summer entertaining
A magnificent Georgian pile with turrets, seven bedrooms, a heated pool and four acres of gardens
Fairoak Farm has five bedroom suites, gym, outdoor swimming pool and golf course
Chic two-bedroom river-fronted flat with a private lift that delivers you directly to your home
A spectacular seven-bedroom Tudor pile, once owned by Henry VIII, with 18 acres of land
A seven-bedroom Georgian property previously used as a picturesque wedding venue
A split-level flat in a church conversion with two en suite bedrooms and 1,200sq ft of living space
A three-bedroom bungalow situated behind an impressive stone wall, £645,000
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
Chapel House is a former vicarage with nine bedrooms in the beautiful Upper Wye Valley
A five-bedroom B&B and separate owner's accomodation with potential for conversion
Enjoy summer by the Thames in this two double-bedroom converted warehouse in Rotherhithe village
A one-bedroom, luxury apartment with private gym and concierge service in Moorgate
A four-bedroom house in Hermitage Gardens with three reception rooms and landscaped gardens
A seven-bedroom Grade II-listed property with a separate self-contained apartment
A five-bedroom Victorian house with three reception rooms and galleried landing, £695,000
A six-bedroom farmhouse with five acres of land in a former cloth-making village